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| 9/17/2010 12:00:00 AM

'Uribism' against Santos?

While the Liberal Party is comfortable in president Juan Manuel Santos’ ‘National Unity’ coalition, both the ‘U’ Party and former president Alvaro Uribe's closest aides feel restless.

'Uribism' against Santos? 'Uribism' against Santos?
The political serenity that had been generated since President Juan Manuel Santos’ inauguration is somehow altered. Differences were unveiled in recent days between Congress President, Armando Benedetti, and Interior Minister, Germán Vargas Lleras. The latter received complaints from Benedetti, who denounced government’s slowness at submitting legislation projects at the Congress. Other differences were perceived between the Liberal and Conservative parties over land and victim’s laws, and about which of the latter should be included in the paramilitary properties restitution process. Many got surprised when, without being asked, Senator Juan Lozano, head of the ‘U’ Party, stated that his political movement would support former President Alvaro Uribe without reservation.

Within days, calmness produced by the call for national unity gave way to a general nervousness in the political scene. What's behind? At one end, every says to be sure that nothing’s happened. That every member of the coalition government is just struggling to consolidate a proper space, and that the accumulated work in the Congress in an ambitious agenda wouldn’t let things be any different. But on the other side there are the pessimists who already foresee an end to the current honeymoon with the new government, or who believe that its ‘National Unity’ project cannot include everyone. In other words, that the government coalition’s parties (the ‘U’ Party, Cambio Radical, conservatives, liberals, and the PIN) cannot live together.

Tensions among them have very different backgrounds. But the most striking has to do with the unrest prevailing in the ‘U’ Party, the one that helped Santos being elected with a historical voting rate and with a majority parliamentary bloc. The ‘U’ is the backbone of the government’s coalition, and has every necessary condition to play a principal role and to consolidate as a leading political force. However, there are several reasons why the ‘U’ doesn’t feel completely comfortable in the current political scene. Its members are jealous of what they consider is a too generous treatment from the President and his Interior Minister, Germán Vargas Lleras, to other members of the coalition that weren’t Santos’ supporters before the elections, such as the Liberal Party.

The resentment has both an ideological dimension and a political one. In the first one, there are ‘U’ congressmen who don’t understand why the government has been so open to arguments coming from the Liberal Party on issues like the law about victims, in which the Santos’ administration changed fundamental aspects that wouldn’t have been changed by Alvaro Uribe’s government: reparation for every victim —including victims of crimes done by state officials—, the acceptance of a large budgetary burden and the splitting of the victim and land laws. The latter was inspired by a proposal made by former liberal candidate Rafael Pardo’s campaign team.

Politically, the ‘U’ party considers that its representation in the minister cabinet isn’t satisfactory and that there’s a disadvantage before the Conservative Party. Although President Santos’ nominations were very well received by public opinion, given the most of the new minister’s professional qualities, the traditional analysis –which is still done in the Congress corridors— concluded that there conservatives have too much a presence among the heads of agenda. Good examples of it are economy minister Juan Carlos Echeverry, agriculture minister Juan Camilo Restrepo, among others. The ‘U’ party had to be contented with Sergio Díaz Granados’ appointment as a Foreign Trade Minister.

Another source of itching is the presence of the Liberal Party in the government. Although liberals don’t have a single greater-importance position, their bosses are clearly happy with their membership to the coalition. After only one month of Santos’ administration, they already feel the difference with the deserted 12 years of Presidents Andres Pastrana and Alvaro Uribe, when they couldn’t participate much. According lasillavací, the president is ruling with the liberal ideas. And it is quite clear that the new government has a closer spirit to liberal tradition, than to that of its two predecessors.

The truth is that if one re-reads former President Cesar Gaviria’s controversial letter in which he, as the head of the Liberal Party, announced its criticized support to Santos before the second round of elections, every point raised at that time is being met. The new government has moved closer to the liberal positions during Pardo’s presidential campaign against Santos and while they were Uribe’s opposition: the project of victims reparation, respectful treatment of the opposition, a favorability towards 1991 Constitution, a friendly approach to the Supreme Court, and a shift in foreign policy.

But if Rafael Pardo, the head of the Liberal Party, and his closest associates, look very happy and active, on the other side the thoroughbred Uribe’s closest are bored. “Santos won with Uribe’s votes, and gives privileges to the Liberals and Cambio Radical. We did eight years of hard work with Uribe, and now Vargas Lleras is the man of the moment", said to SEMANA a recognized senator who is close to Uribe and who asked not to be quoted by name.

Former President Uribe is clearly restless, though, for now, he’s opted for a cautious approach in the public arena: he hasn’t yet said anything and has refused dozens of requests for interviews from every media. However, he has direct phone line and enabled BlackBerry chat with former key partners such as Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera —the only official who keeps on talking about "democratic security"—; former Agriculture Minister Andrés Felipe Arias, who has an influence in the conservative bloc at the House of Representatives; the new ambassador in Caracas, Jose Fernando Bautista, who two weeks ago visited Uribe along with the new comptroller, Sandra Morelli; and Congressmen Roy Barreras and Juan Lozano. They expressed Uribe’s concern about the possibility that "the work" of his government is in danger since Santos has made corrections of his speech and in the government's agenda. The former president has also told them about his intentions to return to the country in two months from the United States, to align his bloc and support candidates for October 2011 regional elections..

Uribe didn’t like last week’s movements which aimed for a change in the list of candidates that he submitted to the Supreme Court for the General Attorney post, and which hasn’t been chosen by this top judiciary organ.

But the letter that Rafael Pardo sent to the Court and the Interior Minister somehow shifted the issue to the political field. Pardo argued that the President is empowered to nominate the list of candidates for General Attorney and that, consequently, Santos could review Uribe’s list, as long as the Court provided a sign that validated this interpretation.

Therefore, Uribe’s closest aides felt something bad approaching. Some sort of a conspiracy aimed at electing a prosecutor favorable to Santos, in the precise moment when some of them are having trouble with Justice. Among them are former Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt, who was been summoned by the General Attorney’s Office, and former DAS director Maria del Pilar Hurtado, whose name has been mentioned in recent witness versions in the DAS wiretapping scandal investigation. ‘U’ Party members even made a statement at the beginning of a Senate session on Wednesday, asking the liberals not to intervene in the process of the General Attorney’s election.

Radical “Uribists” definitely don’t have a favorable view about Interior Minister Germán Vargas Lleras. The latter doesn’t only appear in the first place of the former president most hated ranking, but because they believe his policies at the ministry have been very favorable to the Liberals. Some think that Vargas Lleras envisions a long-term scenario in which the three forces with a liberal origin could join together: Cambio Radical, the ‘U’ and the liberals who are favorable to Santos’ government. However, the ‘U’ believes that the role of the liberal in the National Unity is limited given that they weren’t part of the government alliance with Uribe and because they kept in the opposition during his government. Also, because the liberals were the last to arrive in Santos’ coalition. Apart from the annoyances of Uribe’s followers against Vargas Lleras, there are also those of the Conservatism, that believes that the Interior Minister swept all of Fabio Valencia Cossio’s friends (his predecessor), who were named in the ministry’s offices.

All this makes up a complex picture where some analysts find signs of confrontation between ‘U’ and the most “uribists” against Santos’ government of National Unity. Some even propose hypotheses about its future composition. Will everyone remain? Will the previous government coalition recompose, without the Liberal Party? Is there any chance of the old unity inside the Liberal Party, which Santos belonged during most of his political life? Liberal Senator Luis Fernando Velasco considers, for example, that "in a medium term, Uribe will be Colombia’s conservative chief, facing a coalition of liberal shades led by Santos".

It is, however, too early to predict such scenarios. The recent game played by some may be the mere pursuit of every member of the coalition for a place in the government. All, of course, want such a special place, because the legislative reform agenda, Santos’ openness, and the appreciation with which the public has received the plans of the new administration, make it more profitable to be in than out.

It’s very likely that President Santos and his Interior Minister, who are true masters in politics, will bet to calm waters, to extend the honeymoon and to consolidate the National Unity. Also, they’re probably aiming to achieve all this at the first stage of Santo’s presidency. But then, judging by what has been seen in recent days, things may change.



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